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Higher education

Higher education (HE) can be an opportunity for deaf young people to study a subject they enjoy, advance their career prospects and expand their social horizons.

Watch Ruth talk about starting university

21 year-old Ruth tells us what support she gets at university and how she has settled in so far.

What is higher education?

Higher education is defined as a ‘level’ of study higher than A-levels, and doesn’t just involve study at university. Higher education courses can also be studied online, privately or at college.

Some institutions are known for their support for deaf students or their disability support in general. This is an important consideration and should be combined with thinking about the subject and type of course your child is interested in.

Support your child to first concentrate on what they want to study. The vast majority of courses can be made accessible with the appropriate support and all institutions have the same legal duties to make courses accessible.

For some deaf young people, the desire for a deaf peer group or the attraction of reliable support at a particular institution may be an overriding factor in the decision-making process. Ultimately the choice is theirs and students are far more likely to thrive academically if they are happy socially and comfortable with the support being provided.

Visit UCAS to search for courses and universities, and to find information on how to apply, and Discover Uni to compare universities and colleges.

In addition to applying via UCAS, some institutions have introduced admissions tests. The results will be considered alongside UCAS points and performance at any interview. If your child is asked to sit an admissions test they may want to discuss their access needs (such as additional time) with the institution’s disability officer. If they attend an interview, they will be required to discuss their access needs (such as an interpreter, a room with good acoustics and lighting) beforehand.

If you or your child think they may have been rejected because of their deafness, contact the institution and ask for the reasons for their decision. If you still believe they’ve been placed at a substantial disadvantage and the institution has not taken reasonable steps to avoid this, your child has the right to make a complaint and potentially a legal case under the Equality Act 2010.

Under the Equality Act 2010, all universities and colleges have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their services, so deaf and disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. All institutions have a student support or disability office so prospective students can discuss how their individual needs will be met. A university or college’s website can provide useful information about their support for disabled people.

Your child may need to apply for Disabled Students' Allowances. This is funding to cover the costs of additional support and equipment required due to their deafness, such as radio aids, British Sign Language interpreters and specialist study support.

Remember, not all adjustments are financial. Your child may want to ask for:

  • extra time to finish assignments
  • tutors/lecturers to provide handouts in advance
  • tutors/lecturers to provide information in alternative formats
  • a brief note or ‘personal passport’ to be created which details their support needs, preferences and tips on deaf awareness for tutors/lecturers
  • more one-to-one sessions with their tutor/lecturer to discuss their progress and any problems they’re having
  • study support to help them manage coursework or organise exam revision.

Encourage your child to contact disability services at the universities and colleges they’re interested in to find out what support they could get. The National Union of Students, or the Students’ Union, Association or Guild of Students on campus can also provide information and support.

As for admission tests and interviews, under the Equality Act, institutions must make reasonable adjustments to their assessment processes so that disabled students are not disadvantaged. Adjustments might include alternative methods of assessment, flexibility with deadlines, providing specialist equipment and other support.

These arrangements are usually made through the disability officer liaising with academic staff.

It might be useful for your child to share details of the adjustments they received at GCSE/A-level with their disability officer to inform this process.

Disabled student services staff are responsible for delivering the university’s commitment to equality. This means making sure the reasonable adjustments deaf students need are in place and arranging for the recommendations of the Disabled Students' Allowances needs assessment to be undertaken.

In most larger institutions, disability support services are on campus, open all day and can be walk-in or by appointment. They may have information about types of support and ways of studying that deaf young people might not have thought of before. 

The best way for your child to find out what a university or college is like is to visit it before applying. Visiting a university or college can be an excellent opportunity for your child to discuss how their needs can be met, as well as give them the chance to look around the facilities, meet course tutors and ask general questions.

Encourage your child to ask what kinds of adjustments the university or college will make so they can access the course. If they need flexible exam arrangements, this should be covered too. Encourage them to also ask about accommodation, for example, if your child intends to live in university-provided accommodation they might want to think about if they’ll need adaptations like flashing fire alarms or doorbells. It is also worth them finding out whether the buildings and facilities are fully accessible to deaf students: for example, do lecture theatres have induction loops? Your child shouldn’t be discouraged if some things aren’t right – they should talk to the disability officer about their needs and discuss what adaptations can be made before they start.

It might be useful to arrange to meet the person in charge of disability support when visiting universities and colleges. Most universities and colleges will have open days – visit or the university/college website. It’s also worth contacting the institution beforehand to check that the event will be fully accessible for deaf young people.

Another option is to go to higher education conventions where your child can meet staff from several institutions all at once. These are free events arranged by UCAS, so visit their website for more information and dates.

Ashna's story

Although life as a deaf medical student can be frustrating, Ashna is overcoming the obstacles and is passionate about raising awareness of deafness.

Read Ashna's story